Women for Science

  • AuthorInterAcademy Council
  • TitleWomen for Science
  • Release Date1 June 2006
  • Copyright2006
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5. Academies to lead the way

– Academies must set an example for all of the world to see of welcoming women scientists and engineers to their ranks and treating them as full partners with men.-

National academies can play a valuable role in transferring S&T skills to women at the grassroots level, as described in Chapter 4; and they can be influential in other efforts—academic, governmental, industrial —aimed at achieving gender equity in S&T-related professions (Chapter 3). But in order for academies to truly help in the changing of corporate cultures and diversification of other workplaces, they must first put their own houses in order. Because academies are at the pinnacle of the S&T establishment, their own enlightened examples can inspire other organizations. Alternatively, if academies essentially adopt a policy of ‘Do as we say, not as we do,’’ other entities could similarly take the issue less than seriously— with a consequent persistence or worsening of today’s inequitable status quo.

National academies therefore each need to adopt policies and practices that create fair and inclusive working environments within their own domains and that influence individual academy members to practice inclusiveness at their home institutions. And through the workings of academies’ far-reaching networks and collaborations, they may be effective in improving the representation of women not only throughout their countries but also in the international S&T community.

The present challenge for the academies, however, is sizeable. At the U.S. National Academy of Sciences (NAS), for example—an institution with more than 2,000 members as well as 340 foreign associates from 40 countries—women scientists have traditionally been a small fraction of the membership. With concerted efforts to increase the nomination pool, annual inductions of women have reached over 20 percent in the past few years, though many of these women are in the social sciences. Overall, the proportion of NAS women members is still under 7 percent, with the percentage among mathematicians, physicists, chemists, and engineers hovering around 2 to 3 percent.

United Kingdom, the Royal Society of London has seen a 10percent increase in the number of women elected to membership in the past five years. But because just 44 Fellows are elected each year, the presence of women overall—and especially in mathematics, physics, chemistry, and engineering—continues to remain low (at only 4.5 percent). Elsewhere in the world, the percentage of women academy members in the science and technology disciplines is similarly depressed—at an average of around 5 percent.

Within most academies, moreover, women members may not get to participate fully in meetings and committee work. And women members rarely find themselves in positions of power and leadership. Thus the InterAcademy Council Board, made up of the presidents of 15 prominent science academies, has no women members.

A December 2004 survey undertaken for this report showed wide variation in the range and strength of efforts by academies to address the underrepresentation of women among their membership. Most responses did show some awareness and concern about the problem, though they each tended to look elsewhere for direction. Many simply stated, in effect, that the academy is not actively doing anything but is interested to learn from others.

Yet among academies there are nevertheless some striking examples of gender balance worth emulating. The National Academy of Science and Technology of the Philippines (NAST), for instance, has had a woman president for two terms. Women have parity on the NAST Council, and women form almost one-third of the membership. Similarly, the science academies in India have a large number of women officers and pay strong attention to gender issues, as noted earlier in this report.

 Several academies offered suggestions for action during the preparation of this report. All were considered by the Advisory Panel, and some have been incorporated into its recommendations. On the other hand, many of the proposed initiatives were small-scale and individualized, tending to focus on supporting just a few women, and were often based on the erroneous premise that women need help because they are inherently lacking in some way.

Stronger, more realistic, and more replicable efforts are required, especially those that go to the heart of the problem. Thus it is the Advisory Panel’s belief that the most appropriate way for academies to address the underrepresentation of women members is to foster an inclusive institutional culture based on good management practice, as described in Chapter 2 and reflected in the discussion and recommendations below.

Document Date: June 1, 2006
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